I am officer cadet Noa L., and for five weeks, I had the opportunity to be an intern at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). While I am normally based at the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich, Germany doing my essential studies on social sciences and public affairs I applied for this internship and luckily got accepted.
Learning about international relations and cooperation in my studies, SHAPE as the strategic Headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which is an indisputably successful example for transatlantic multinational cooperation, attracted my attention. Actually, getting here and entering the multinational playground really was beyond my imagination.
Entering SHAPE's main building on my first day was both impressive and overwhelming at the same time. Surrounded by dozens of different battle uniforms and undefinable ranks from over 30 different nations, was a very new experience. Not even mentioning all the different languages and accents hitting me all at once in the big entrance hall.
Never mind, I just kept on walking and made my way into this totally new environment. Everybody I met immediately welcomed me as part of the family. Not for one second did I have the chance to think about language or cultural barriers because everybody faces the same situation as I did.
In a new workplace, many times a new country far away from home, friends and family, and from your usual environment, you are rapidly introduced to a new family. SHAPE for sure is a hard-working family that needs every single person to fulfil its tasks at their best. Having a harmonious environment that lets you concentrate on your tasks, rather than on unnecessary distractions, makes this possible.
What did I experience?
The different working areas and tasks I was introduced to in the next couple of weeks really opened my eyes for the importance of NATO's work. Since SHAPE is one of the two strategic military Headquarters of NATO, the majority of my internship focused on the operational military side of NATO, which constantly ensures security and stability of the European and North American members.
Every single day of my internship was loaded with new information about all the different branches and sections of SHAPE. The SHAPE Command Structure Diagram thereby became one of my closest friends since I was introduced to it several times. This was of course helpful, to get an actual understanding of how all the different departments are organised, which authorities the section gets orders from and how they are actually working together.
It was an honour for me stepping on NATO ground all dressed up in my country's uniform. I not only felt like a soldier but also like an ambassador for my home country Germany.
What do I take home with me? What is the most outstanding thing I will remember? One thing during this internship that really changed my perspective on NATO is the human factor. NATO isn't just a huge faceless international organisation, it's the people (soldiers and civilians) standing behind these four capital letters that are working together as one big, caring family. A family that serves the citizens of 30 NATO members and countless partners, to guarantee their freedom and security. Everybody is welcome in this family, no matter who you are, how you look or where you come from. The important thing is how you behave and how good you, as an individual, are fulfilling your tasks within the family.